Over the last couple of weeks I have engaged in discussions on Twitter where people have been arguing against the use (or misuse?) of summative assessments. I would argue that summative assessments are an essential PART of a comprehensive assessment program based on Assessment for Learning practices.
As educators our goal is to have students learn. After a student has learned we need to check their understanding before they have an opportunity to move on. That’s where our good friend the summative assessment comes in…a check in on learning. If we don’t check how can we be certain a student has mastered a concept? Sorry, a whim or a gut feeling just doesn’t cut it.
I think the lack of love for summative assessments is due to tests, particularly high stakes tests. High stakes tests, where teachers, schools, school districts etc. are being evaluated are a misuse of summative assessments. I would argue further that if we want to understand the depth of student learning that the standard paper and pencil test will fall short as well. I personally have never been able to create a test that measures anything but a surface knowledge of the concepts and typically don’t allow students to synthesize, apply or demonstrate the relationship of multiple concepts.
A poorly designed summative assessment does not aid in learning, however an open-ended project that expects students to weave together multiple concepts in a way that is meaningful to them is an extremely effective way to gauge whether or not a student has learned and the depth of their understanding. This type of assessment works hand in hand with Project Based Learning.
Let’s be clear, the intention of a summative assessment should not be tocreate letter grades, quantifiy learning (i.e. %) etc. Good assessments do not need numbers or a letter grade to check for understanding. As educators we need to check if students have learned. Well designed summative assessments tell us this and they are integral to the learning process.
Please, give them a little love.